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And so a new year rolls round again – sooner, always, than we expect. To celebrate this time, a slide show sent by Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge. No politics, no war, no strife, no exhortations to do anything. Just extraordinary images, made during 2010, of our amazing world.

May the new year bring an equal amount of beauty into each of your lives.

The Elder Storytelling Place will return with new stories on Monday 3 January

Holiday Traditions

Every family has holiday traditions. We learn them from our parents – as they probably did from their parents - pass them on to our children with annual repetition, perhaps inventing some new ones along the way, or drop some that don't seem to work anymore.

Before the season ends, it might be fun to share our rituals. I'll start.

When I was a kid Christmas began the day after Thanksgiving when my mother and I made round cookies she called Mexican Wedding Cakes, that gained their sweetness from being rolled in powdered sugar while still warm from the oven.

Then they sat in decorated tins until they “cured,” and we ate them throughout Christmas week. I have done that myself ever since as gifts, and I'm always careful to save plenty for me.

Decorating the tree was an evening ritual about a week before the big day. Dad strung the lights and Mom was exacting about how the ornaments were hung. My favorite was a glass bugle that really tooted. We added tinsel last and Mom was a demon about adding one piece at a time carefully draped over the tree limbs – no throwing it at the tree. Does anyone use tinsel anymore?

Sometimes we strung popcorn and cranberries for the tree too. And I recall making Christmas cards with colored paper and pens, cutouts, glue and glitter.

Each year, Mom made a holiday scene on the mantle with candles (never for burning) in the shapes of carolers, fir trees, reindeer and Santa. The only overtly religious item was a white church about a foot tall with red cellophane windows that glowed when the light was turned on. We could wind up the music box inside that played Silent Night.

We opened our gifts on Christmas Eve, but not until after dinner. It is amazing how long grownups can linger over coffee. My anticipation was excruciating but still, they dawdled and talked and no amount of begging - “Can't I open just one, now, Mom, pleeeeze” - would move them.

It took until I was well into adulthood to figure out they probably did that deliberately.

We had stockings on Christmas morning from “Santa” and sometimes those little gifts were even better than the big packages the night before.

The tree stayed up until New Years' Day and every year, as we put away the ornaments, Mom commented that she had a friend who loved Christmas so much she left up her tree until Valentine's Day.

With my brother and Isa this year, we repeated the gift opening on Christmas Eve after dinner and they had made stockings for us for Christmas morning.

This holiday made no impression on me – that I remember – as a kid. I vaguely recall that my parents sometimes held a grownup party that didn't start until my brother and I were in bed.

It's been nearly 40 years since I last “celebrated” on New Year's Eve by going out. I clearly remember what caused me to give up parties away from home.

A friend had asked me to accompany him to his cousin's annual “gala” dinner - a dress-up affair at her penthouse on Park Avenue that was always reported on the society pages of The New York Times.

Family obligations required him to attend, he said (he didn't sound happy about it), and because he was not “out” to his family, having a woman with him would help alleviate the kinds of questions he got when he attended these affairs alone.

I told Ken that even in my fanciest evening clothes, I would be under-dressed, but he said not to worry; it wouldn't matter – these were not his favorite relatives. I did look terrific for a glittering evening by my standards, but not Park Avenue's.

The apartment was right out of Architectural Digest, perfect in the way of the very rich. Waiters glided about with hors d'oeuvres and champagne, candles shimmered in every room and the three Christmas trees were gorgeous enough for the windows of Bergdorf's.

Diamonds, emeralds and rubies dripped from the ears and throats of the women in dresses that undoubtedly cost several months' worth of my salary.

The men in their tuxedos gathered in the wood-paneled library. From what I overheard, they talked entirely about stocks and Wall Street. I didn't have much to say with the women either – their conversation was mostly gossip about people whose names I knew only from newspapers and glossy magazines at the hair dresser's shop.

I thought it was odd that except for dinner, no one ever sat down. The meal was exquisite, of course, and I enjoyed every bite.

For me, the evening was a rare peek into a world I'd seen only in movies or read about in books. But it wasn't my world and I was relieved when Ken whispered, “Let's get out of here and go downtown.”

I know, I know, you're waiting for the tradition part of this story.

The weather that New Year's Eve was bitter cold, threatening snow when Ken and I left the Village. But he'd picked me up in a taxi, so no walking was involved. By the time we left, however, the wind was gusting and snow was falling and – what else is new on New Year's Eve – not a taxi in sight.

There was nothing to do but walk to the subway – 10 or 12 blocks from where we were – with me in my strappy, sexy, high-heeled shoes and a light, ankle-length, evening coat.

It was the longest walk of my life. Every time I stepped off a curb, the hem of my coat got further soaked and slapped against my heels. My feet hurt and my toes turned numb. The wind was icy against my face and as far as I could tell, my nose had fallen off.

I thought I couldn't be more miserable until we waited on the freezing subway platform for nearly an hour before a train arrived.

When I finally got home, I soaked in a hot bath for another hour.

And that's when I decided never again. It's always cold in December and there will never – until the end of time - be an available taxi on New Year's Eve.

So I invented a tradition from which I have never strayed in all the years since then.

I prepare a special meal just for me – something I don't eat often because of cost or health. Lobster or foie gras or, once, a full-blown banana split with three kinds of ice cream, hot caramel sauce, nuts, home-made whipped cream and a cherry on top. This year it will be wine- and maple-cured salmon I bought last week in Astoria.

Always, too, there is a book to read, something I've been looking forward to. A favorite author's latest novel, maybe, or just a fun mystery. And I'm always asleep before midnight – I wouldn't think of watching the new year arrive on television.

Occasionally, no more than half a dozen times through all these years, I've had company – a current boyfriend or other friend in town who is staying with me. Even then, I insist on the ritual – a wonderful meal and good book – a quiet evening they are welcome to share.

Nothing can entice me to leave the house. I love my private, little ritual and I cannot imagine spending New Years any other way.

Now it's your turn. What are your traditions for Christmas and New Years or a special one you particularly like to recall.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Terry Hamburg: Grooowing Sleepy

INTERESTING STUFF: 29 December 2010

Category_bug_interestingstuff Interesting Stuff is an occasional column of short takes and links to web items that have recently caught my attention – some related to aging and some not.

All readers are encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click Contact in the upper left corner of any TGB page to email them. There is no guarantee of publication and I'm sorry I won't have time to acknowledge receipt.

Even when I was working, the days between Christmas and New Years felt like a period in limbo, a week when not much happens except for the media's variety of top ten lists, photos of the year and predictions of what we might be in for during the coming year.

To fill some of that time, here are a few feel-good videos and a couple of other items that caught my fancy.

I'm pretty sure the White House pastry chefs do this every year, but I never get tired of it. (I'm a fan of doll houses too.) Here's a video of the preparation of this year's White Chocolate White House.

The New York Times put together a fantastic interactive map of results from this year's census. You can find median income, distribution of race and ethnicity, median home values or rent prices, education levels and much more all broken down by county.

Check out the maps for yourself here. They are very cool.

Remember when Senate Leader Harry Reid went way out on a limb by promising to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Army 1st Lt. Dan Choi, who had been dismissed from service for being gay, then gave Reid his West Point graduation ring to hold until Reid delivered on his promise.

When the repeal happened, Reid returned the ring to Choi. Here's the video.

Historians in Italy magnified the eyes of Leonardo DaVinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, and discovered a secret code of numbers and letters. They aren't entirely clear, but two appear to be DaVinci's initials and another set might be the number 72.

It's a 500-year-old mystery – certainly worthy of a movie, don't you think. Read more here.

Accordiing to news reports, it was for a children's charity in St. Petersburg. Still, I don't know what to make of Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin singing Blueberry Hill, but it's fun – or funny – or just plain weird.

Further weirdness: you'll notice a few American movie stars in the audience.

You've probably done it too. You wake up in the middle of the night, can't get back to sleep and turn on television to pass the time only to find one infomercial after another after another. Really annoying.

But someone with a wonderful sense of humor strung together clips from a whole bunch of them creating a narrative of all the terrible afflictions infomercials promise to cure. It's a great laugh.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp: Working for Adventure

The Days of Christmas

category_bug_journal2.gif There were not many in my family to begin with: a mom, a dad, two children, a great aunt, a grandfather I knew and a grandmother I did not know who lived halfway across the country from our home in Portland, Oregon.

For a long time, the little family was even smaller – my brother and me. Now, since my brother married a couple of years ago, we're up to three and we spent the long Christmas weekend together – the first time my brother and I have been together for the holiday since we were little kids.

Recently, my brother and his wife – Paul and Isa – bought a home in Astoria, Oregon. It is located near the northwest tip of the state where the Columbia River, which divides Oregon from Washington state, flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Astoria Map

Isa lives there full-time and my brother, who will not retire for two more years, commutes from his job in Portland for weekends in Astoria. On Thursday morning, he and I made the 90-minute drive with Ollie the cat snoozing in his carrier.

As you might imagine, Astoria is a good-sized port with gigantic container ships in and out the harbor of which there is a wonderful view from Paul and Isa's lovely, little, 110-year-old house on a hill just one steep block from the river. This ship cruised by one day as we were on our way to lunch.

Container Ship

Paul has always spent a lot of time in Astoria and has lived there in the past. For 30 years or more, he has told me about his favorite restaurant, the Columbian Cafe, run by a Cajun, Uriah, originally from Louisiana.

It's a warm, cozy, little place hung with many Mardi Gras beads (although the decorations are likely to change) and I finally met Uriah himself. The food is excellent and you should stop by if you ever find yourself in Astoria, Oregon.

Columbian Cafe

Much of our four days together centered around food – rack of lamb, foie gras with home-made fig chutney and fondue were highlights at home – and there were the ever-present animals. Chandra eats wherever it suits her.


Willow liked sleeping on the Christmas stockings.


And this is Vidhi the dog below the Christmas tree.


Ollie the cat stayed in his room for the entire four days (he is not the most social pet I ever had). Toward the end, it looked like he and Willow might have found some common ground if I had stayed longer.

We filled the time we were not eating with movies and Monopoly (the old-fashioned kind, not electronic) and books and music and good company. You could tell it was a modern holiday when sometimes all three of us, in the same room, were silently using our Kindles.

Since a trip to the coast is not complete without the ocean, we drove out in the rain one day, but didn't stay long. Paul got a photo of Isa and me.

Isa and Ronni

Throughout the 40-odd years I lived in New York City, I sometimes had Dungeness crab or smoked seafood sent from an establishment in Astoria named Josephson's. It's just down the hill from Paul and Isa's house so I bought some wine/maple-cured salmon that I'm saving for New Year's Eve.


To Ollie the cat's relief, we arrived back home in Lake Oswego early yesterday morning.

It still surprises me how often through the years the good times get mixed up with sad ones. Although it was one of my best Christmases ever, it was also tinged with great sadness at the death of Saul Friedman on Christmas Eve day.

It's the way life goes, isn't it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, one more Christmas story - from William Weatherstone: Christmastime Compared – Today (2010) vs. Yesterday (1943)

My Friend, My Teacher - Saul Friedman

category_bug_journal2.gif Of course, I had known this day would come. Saul had told me about his stroke, his later treatment for esophageal cancer and more recently, a stomach cancer.

Some months ago, he said, he had gone into hospice care and then explained in a column in May 2010 that it is available from Medicare if a physician states in writing that you have six months to live.

I knew all that. But each week, Saul's Gray Matters column (and every other week, his Reflections column) arrived via email well ahead of our deadline and I came to believe – or refused to think otherwise – that they would continue indefinitely.

When giving his Small Miracles story a first read on 13 December, I was startled by the beginning of the final paragraph: “Before I leave...” Which shows you I didn't really forget the limit of Saul's days. Briefly, I wondered if those three words were a portent, a foreshadowing or a hint Saul was giving us, his readers. I brushed the thought aside.

Now I think maybe it was Saul's hint for us that his time was near.

I first “met” Saul in June 2008, when he reached out to me after the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare made us co-winners that year of their Media Excellence Award – he for print (at Newsday) and I for this blog.

I do not believe I should be regarded anywhere near his stature, but there we were together and I am grateful now that the NCPSSM made it possible for me to know this amazing man.

After half a century as a journalist, one weekly Newsday column couldn't possibly be enough for Saul and I was thrilled when he proposed a column at Time Goes By. Titled Reflections, it began at the end of 2008, and continued twice monthly. He still wrote about health care, politics, Social Security, Medicare, etc., but from a more personal point of view than his journalistic Gray Matter column.

Then in November 2009, Newsday, which had published Saul's Gray Matters column on Saturdays for more than a decade, instituted a paid firewall that would make Saul's work unavailable to his many readers throughout the country. Saul quit in protest and then inquired if I would publish Gray Matters at Time Goes By.

WOULD I?! I couldn't fire off that acceptance note fast enough and I have posted both his columns with enormous pride ever since. He became my teacher on our common subject, my friend and my mentor. When he sometimes emailed to compliment a story I'd written, I sailed around a foot off the ground for a day.

Just ten days before he died, Saul asked if I would select six of his best columns from 2010 to submit to the annual contest run by the Association of Health Care Journalists of which he was a member.

Six??? It took me a couple of days to winnow it down from so many that are worthy. I cannot think of a better way for us to celebrate this wonderful man than by recalling and taking time to re-read some of the words he has left us with.

One of the columns I chose for the contest was Esophageal Cancer for its personal point of view combined with Saul's always excellent reporting and information.

Last July, he ended his column celebrating the life of Dr. Robert N. Butler with these words:

“Would that Butler were still alive to continue his fight to preserve the social insurance legacy that helped give this century the longevity revolution he celebrated.”

And equally so for Saul. In his field, he worked as fully and tirelessly as Dr. Butler toward the same goals and it is devastating to lose both these men in the same year.

As important as Saul's work is on policy and health care, I am particularly fond of his more personal columns. Here is his take On Turning 80.

He told us a bit about his radical political past in Seeger and Me.

In a recent column, Saul told us he was planning to take his wife, Evelyn, to Egypt to show her the pyramids and the Nile which he had visited many years ago as a journalist. Sadly, that trip won't happen now, but they did get to Botswana together in 2009. You can read about that trip and see some of Saul's photos here.

If your holiday celebrations kept you from visiting Time Goes By over the weekend, please read this extraordinarily beautiful remembrance from Saul's grandson, a young man who appears to be well on his way to emulating his grandfather.

Saul may be gone now, but his work lives on and he can continue to educate us and point the way, particularly in regard to Social Security and Medicare that Congress members, at the behest of their corporate overlords will try to gut over the coming months in the names deficit reduction and austerity. A good starting place is Saul's recent column titled Social Security – The Anti-Ponzi Scheme.

A powerful voice has been silenced. Saul had a profound impact on me personally and professionally. I have always taken this blog seriously, but I cannot count the number of ways he urged me to strive to be even better. It has been a bittersweet Christmas weekend mixed with sadness and great happiness, too, to have had this fine man as a friend.

I got behind in preparing stories for The Elder Storytelling Place. It will return on Tuesday.

Saul Friedman 1929 - 2010

Yesterday, on 24 December, Saul Friedman died at home on Chesapeake Bay surrounded by his family. His 23-year-old grandson, Benjamin T. Hall, wrote this remembrance to share with Saul's many readers.

As I sit here with a hint of scotch on my breath, watching the smoke from a cigarette roll upward, turning into something beautiful, I’m wondering where to begin. Today perhaps.

It is the 23rd of December, my birthday, and the cold in the air seems appropriate. My breath as I walk down the street. More smoke. Where does it go?

Now that I sit here, in these shoes I have so desperately wanted to fill since my youth, I am at a loss of words. I have always wanted to write, just like my Grandfather, Saul. I never anticipated writing about him or to an audience so close to his heart.

As Saul has alluded, and at times forthrightly said, he has been handed many small miracles in his life. He has been given music and been afforded the opportunity to grow with the music he loved, ranging from the Beatles to Chopin, up until his very last moments.

As he lies in bed, taking in the breaths that will be his last, Frank Sinatra, John Lennon and Ludwig van Beethoven accompany him. He shared his love of music with me many years ago when he gave me Beethoven’s piano sonatas, a gift I cherish to this day.

My favorite sonata will always remind me of his beautiful, tremendous nature.

Saul was once given the idea that things were not always as they seemed.

This simple idea led him to pursue a knowledge of philosophy that forever changed his life. He said this much to me two days ago during a conversation from his hospice bed. The bed lies beside the window to give him a view of the bay he adores so much.

Over the years we too have shared this love for a deeper understanding of things, which is how I have come to truly understand our friend Nietchze when he said

“The poison which weaker natures perish strengthens the strong - nor do they call it poison.”

Witnessing the greatest man I’ve ever known wither away, his mind peeling apart like the leaves of the grandest tree, will not kill me. His wisdom has assured me it will make me stronger.

I find solace in knowing Saul has helped so many people; that Saul truly cared for people the way he implores others to do. His work in politics has always been so profound because he has been more concerned with the consequences rather than with the present actions. His entire life has been based on the sole belief that people can, and should, be better to one another.

Spend an afternoon with his family and you can meet some of the most caring, genuine people on the earth. He has shaped his two daughters into women who care and give and love, women who never take the world for granted.

I know Because my Mother is a teacher whose students share holidays with us.

I know because my Aunt is a psychologist who takes feral dogs off the streets of L.A. and turns them into house pets; house guests really.

I know because my Grandmother, Evelyn, has been able to put up with Saul for over 50 years. Another small miracle if you ask me.

Saul Friedman is still with us for the moment, but the moment can never be everlasting, no matter how wonderful it may seem. He is resting comfortably and soon will be comfortable enough with what he’s done for the world to leave.

By the time this lamenting rambling of a mourning grandchild is before your eyes, the eyes of the Friedman family may be filled with the tears of the unknown future, a future we will have to find our way through without the guidance and love that only Saul could provide.

However, our faces will hold smiles of remembrance for the times we’ve been able spend with this beautiful, tremendous, unbelievable, blue-eyed man.

Written with sadness and gratitude,
Benjamin T. Hall

Merry Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

All three of us are away for the weekend but never fear, new stories will appear here as usual on Saturday from Saul Friedman and on Sunday from Peter Tibbles. The Elder Storytelling Place is on a holiday hiatus until Monday 27 December.

Wishing every one of you a joyous celebration with your family and friends.

Old Fogey Email Users

Yesterday, The New York Times - being the paper of record and all – relegated Crabby Old Lady to the “old fogey” category. Signs of that status, they say, are

“You still watch movies on a VCR, listen to vinyl records and shoot photos on film. And you enjoy using e-mail.”

Oh please. That's just lazy reporting. No movies have been released on tape since 2006. Vinyl still has an enthusiastic following for its pleasing and, some say, superior audio qualities. Film too has its uses.

But never mind that. The point of the story is the fading popularity of email mainly because young people find typing in a subject line too time-consuming and email in general “so lame.”

“It’s painful for them,” [James E. Katz] said of email and the younger generation. “It doesn’t suit their social intensity.”

Katz, who is director of the Center for Mobile Communications Studies at Rutgers University, says this is not the death of email, but a “downgrade” of it because young people have more choices now.

“Mr. Katz...said texting and social networks better approximated how people communicated in person — in short snippets where niceties did not matter. Over time, he said, e-mail will continue to give way to faster-twitch formats, even among older people.”

Crabby disagrees – at least for herself. Maybe she doesn't know enough 14-year-olds, but niceties grease the wheels of civility and the people she communicates with speak in complete sentences. In fact, Crabby doesn't know how to think or speak otherwise and unless “Fire” or “Look out” are necessary, she will continue to do so.

Paul Krugman stole another of Crabby's objections before she had time to write this post:

There are very real virtues to old-fashioned email. You can convey a lot of information, if necessary — and it’s information that stays available in the archive.

Plus, the lack of immediacy is, given the way I live, a virtue. In general, I can’t break what I’m doing to talk to you or text you; so an asynchronous form of communication, which I can respond to when convenient, is a huge advantage...

[I]nstant communication is not the future for everything.

One of the reasons Mr. Krugman can't stop what he's doing to answer text messages is that he writes for a living. To be interrupted continuously by any number of people wanting immediate answers means the writing cannot be done.

Crabby learned that when she was still working and was required by her boss to keep an instant message box always open on her screen. Her productivity at that job was pitiful not to mention that when she got frustrated at the interruptions, answers like "get lost" didn't go over well with her colleagues.

The Times' and Mr. Katz's' conclusion about email is based on a survey reporting that visits to such email websites as Yahoo! and Hotmail have dropped six percent from a year ago overall and by 18 percent among 12- to 17-year-olds, although gmail traffic is up 10 percent.

According to the Times, texting changes so quickly even young adults can't keep up. Adam Horowitz, who is only twenty-three, is confused by his 12- and 19-year-old brothers:

“When they text me, it comes across in broken English. I have no idea what they’re saying. I may not text in full sentences, but at least there’s punctuation to get my point across,” he said.

“I guess I’m old school.”

Just think. It won't be long before Adam's brothers will be left behind too leaving egg on the faces of college professors and reporters too ready to consign older virtues to trash bin in favor of kids' passing fancies.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Santa Claus


JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif This morning President Obama is signing the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy that has forced gay and lesbian U.S. soldiers to hide their private orientation if they wished to stay in the military.

In force since 1993 and considered a moderate compromise when first enacted, the gay ban made honest troops to live a lie and caused horrible anguish to gay families, especially as war deployments became long and frequent.

Good riddance to a stupid and cruel policy - defended by Republicans to the end, I might add.

Pentagon protest Saturday July 31 1965

The struggle to serve openly in the military is not some new-fangled innovation. Gay people and friends have been working for this day for a very long time. The photo above shows a 1965 protest at the Pentagon asking for the right to serve. My, weren't we careful to try to look conventional in those days!

Matlovich Time Cover

Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich carried on a long legal battle in the 1970s to stay in the Air Force after coming out. Though his exemplary record stirred much support, he eventually lost his case. He ended up running a restaurant in the resort town of Guerneville north of San Francisco. (We often ate there when passing through.)

Sgt. Leonard_Matlovich gravestone)

Like many gay men of his generation, HIV/AIDS killed Matlovich. His tombstone in a Washington D.C. cemetery reads "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."

ROTC 1990 University of Wisconsin

One of the collateral effects of the ban on gays in the military was to make the ROTC program in which the military trains officer candidates while they are still in civilian colleges seem deeply illegitimate to more progressive academic institutions. The students above were protesting in 1990 at the University of Wisconsin.

Though in recent years many institutions that once excluded ROTC have allowed it to return, repeal of the ban almost certainly will lead to restoration of ROTC at any institution so inclined - though the program will continue to face protests that it is feeding illegitimate, ill-defined wars.

Get Equal White House

Like many (most?) groups that supported President Obama's election, LGBT activists have often questioned his commitment to advancing our concerns without compromising them fatally. Members of the advocacy group GETEqual organized veterans to handcuff themselves to the White House fence to push for repeal last April.

There was little trust that the President would get this done if gay people and friends let up for a minute. So they didn't.

Today we thank the president, Senator Harry Reid who worked all the ins and outs of the Senate for this, Speaker Nanct Pelosi who has been right about this for a long time and above all, the activists who insisted that the ban on gays in the military undermined our full citizenship in the country of our birth and affection.

This change had to come; brave people made it so and our leaders have followed.


This is never been my highest priority issue, Though I understand why winning equal treatment for gay people in the military is a necessary part of my full citizenship, I worry more about the uses that irresponsible (and sometimes stupid) political leaders make of our military, invading other people's countries without cause or rational plan and failing to disentangle when the going would be good. But that's about the politicians.

I also worry more about all veterans - the least we could do as a country after we use them up is take care of them when they come home.

It has just been revealed that the Pentagon Health Plan is balking at providing brain damage therapy to returning troops. It costs too much, they fear.

Vets I know say just about everyone who saw combat comes back with some brain impairment these days - human beings aren't wired to endure ongoing, massive explosions even if their limbs come out intact.

But today, let's celebrate one small victory for full inclusion that brings our country more in accord with its ideals - and then we can regroup to pursue other causes!

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Christmases Past

Social Security and Elder Women

category_bug_politics.gif By mid-afternoon yesterday, I had written most of what I had planned for today's post, but as the hours ticked past, increasing numbers of news and commentary popped into my inbox about the coming attack on Social Security, adding to a minor deluge that had begun last week.

Most were reacting to leaks, suggestions or intimations that in his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama, following recommendations from the Bowles-Simpson (catfood) commission report, will call for slashing Social Security. To wit:

Robert Kuttner at Politico:

“The tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is just the first part of a multistage drama...

“The second part, now being teed up by the White House and key Senate Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan — including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president’s State of the Union address.”

Jed Lewison at dailyKos:

“Conservatives like the idea of extending the Social Security payroll tax holiday because it will give them leverage to win Democratic support for long-term cuts to Social Security that they couldn't achieve on their own.”

Roger Hickey at Campaign for America's Future:

“Now the Republicans have identified their next hostage: They're going to threaten to destroy the international financial stability of the United States by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. What are they demanding for ransom? They want President Obama to slash Social Security and Medicare before this next hostage crisis comes to a head in March or April.”

Paul Krugman at The New York Times:

“[T]his is absolutely the wrong place to cut if you’re serious about fiscal issues. It’s where the money isn’t; and in terms of securing Social Security itself, it’s deeply illogical: in order to avoid the possibility of future benefit cuts, we’re cutting future benefits.”

And so on.

Even if the president does not take a whack at Social Security in the State of the Union, you can rely on Congressional Republicans to do so. This comes at a time when a new study released last week reveals that Social Security is crucial to the well-being of elder women.

The report, from the National Academy on an Aging Society, the public policy branch of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), is titled For Millions of Older Women, Social Security is a Lifeline.

Because the brief costs $40 and the GSA has not responded to my request for a press copy, I am relying on their news release which states:

“Without Social Security, research indicates that about half of women age 65 and older would be living in poverty. With the program in place, the poverty rate for women falls to 12 percent.

"'Older women — especially those who are not married — rely heavily on Social Security, as this research brief makes clear,' said GSA Public Policy Committee Chair Sara Rix, PhD.

“'Relatively modest changes to restore solvency to the Social Security system would ensure that these women and the generations that follow them will be able to depend on their Social Security benefits well into the future.'"

Among the modest proposals to secure the future of Social Security for our children, grandchildren and beyond is to eliminate the salary cap on the payroll tax – something high earners can certainly afford now that Congress has extended their massive tax cut.

Of course, that may not be enough due to the new payroll tax holiday which reduces contributions by 16 percent and which Republicans will undoubtedly try to extend indefinitely. Plus, although no one has mentioned it, I keep wondering how long it will be before employers begin lobbying to reduce their contribution equally.

So you can see how the future of Social Security is already in jeopardy – for women, but certainly a lot of men too if the Republicans prevail in the next Congress.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Lazinsky: It's a Wonderful Life

An Historic Repeal, DREAMs die and "Worst Responders"

category_bug_politics.gif If it seems to you that legislative votes in Congress are coming hot and heavy in these last weeks of 2010, you're correct.

But don't for a moment feel sorry for Congress members about how much work they're doing at the last minute, even if they whine. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) complained that there have been so many bills, he didn't have time to think about the START treaty.

Ahem. START has been ready for Congress to act upon since April, so let's have no tears for Mr. Graham.

But first today, we must celebrate the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell - an historic step toward full civil rights for lesbians and gays. Someone noted that the first man was kicked out the military for being gay 232 years ago. So it's been a long time coming.

Pretty much everything else Congress did last week is unconscionable.

The tax bill, which passed on Wednesday extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for two years in exchange for 13 months of added unemployment benefits, although not for those who must be beyond desperate by now – the ones who have been jobless for 99 weeks or more.

For elders (which is, in time, everyone), the bill sells out Social Security to the long-term, Republican effort to kill it. When the deficit comes up for debate – which will be as soon as the new Congress convenes in January - there will increased pressure from the right to further gut the program.

(We have our work cut out for us on that next year.)

The DREAM Act failed in the Senate. This bill would have given young undocumented immigrants, whose parents brought them to the U.S. as children and about which they had no say, a path to legal citizenship. It was mostly Republicans who blocked the bill, but six Democrats, three of whose votes would have won the day for these young people, voted against it too.

As unfair and terrible as these two votes are, the one that rips out my heart is the Zadroga bill (James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010) that would have created a $7 billion fund to provide health and financial aid to 9/11 first responders many of whom are fighting life-threatening health conditions as a result of the toxic material they worked in during the aftermath of the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Republicans filibustered the Zadroga bill because, they said, they would not vote on it unless the Bush tax cut for people earning more than $250,000 was extended first. Keep that in mind if you're ever inclined to vote for a Republican; tax cuts for the rich are more important to them than the health of genuine American heroes.

And keep in mind too, that for the endless coverage of every hiccup of the tax cut debate, hardly any in the media reported the defeat, on 9 December, of the Zadroga bill. Not even home town paper The New York Times which on Friday, more than a week after the fact, printed a short piece not about the failure of the bill, but about The Daily Show's final broadcast of the year on Thursday.

Stewart well represented my rage at Congress and the press, whom he dubbed "worst responders" as he turned over the entire program to the Zadroga bill. Here is part one.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

On Friday, thinkprogress reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies for foreign corporations as well as American businesses, helped kill the Zadroga legislation:

“While Republicans quietly snuffed out efforts to compensate 9/11 heroes, they were aided by a quiet lobbying campaign by the powerful lobbying front — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce...

“In September, the Chamber sent a letter officially opposing the 9/11 first responders bill...The Chamber warned that ending the tax loophole would 'damage U.S. relationships with major trading partners' and 'aggravate already unsettled financial markets.'

"A lobbying disclosure filed with the Senate confirms the Chamber contacted lawmakers to help kill the bill.”

This is beyond shameful; it is morally bankrupt. How do any of these people sleep at night?

If all this sounds like it is personal for me, it is.

The staging area for heavy equipment used in the rescue efforts was half a block from my home in New York. The neighbors and I brought those workers coffee and doughnuts and sandwiches and soft drinks throughout the days and weeks.

There is a firehouse, also half a block from my home. I knew those guys for 20-odd years. I shopped at the market with them, shared recipes, stopped to chat when I walked past the station. One of them once defused a dangerous situation with my water heater when it was huffing, rattling and spewing steam, apparently ready to explode.

Because it was downtown, less than mile from the Trade Center, my neighborly firefighters were among the first of the first responders on 9/11, and 11 - ELEVEN - from that one firehouse were killed that day.

When I took flowers to the station the next day, there was already a pile of them in a ten-foot-wide recess in the building stacked a foot or two above my head. It was a devastating loss to the men of that firehouse, to the city and everyone in my neighborhood.

So, yes, this is personal as it undoubtedly is to every New Yorker - and more than a few Americans who didn't happen to live there nine years ago.

Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (D-NY) told the Forest Hills Patch on Friday that she believes there are the votes to pass the Zadroga bill during this session and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is “likely” to bring the bill to the floor again.

Playing catchup to the Patch, The New York Times was finally moved to pick up the phone and get a similar statement from Senator Gillenbrand which they printed on Sunday, additionally noting that there might not be time as Congress tries to adjourn for the holidays.

So we will see how it goes this week. The Chamber of Commerce is the top-spending lobby organization.

Meanwhile, please take the time to watch the rest of Jon Stewart's show with four first responder heroes and then call or email your senators to demand that they pass the Zadroga bill.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Christmas Past and Present

ELDER MUSIC: Christmas in Oz (continued from last year)

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


Christmas in Oz

I used up all my good cynical Christmas songs last year not realising I'd need any again; however, I'll do my best. I might have to use real Christmas songs. Shock. Horror. However, I'm sure I can come up with something more interesting.

Christmas in Oz

Carols by Candlelight has been a tradition here in Melbourne at Christmas Eve from the thirties.

Carols by Candlelight

It was originally held in the Alexandra Gardens near the city and eventually moved to The Domain gardens when it outgrew the original. This place also has the advantage of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, an outdoor amphitheatre used for many performances throughout the year.

Initially, the event was as described. However, in the way of these things, more often these days it has become a venue for the latest pop singers, or not so latest, to strut their stuff.

The idea originated in the 1800s when miners in South Australia gathered on Christmas Eve to sing carols with candles stuck in the brims of their hats.

Since the original in Melbourne, it has spread to all major cities (and a lot of minor ones and country towns). Even to this unbeliever and bah-humbug type, it's a really nice event (except for the pop singers).

Glenn Cardier, one of our best singer/songwriters who has featured occasionally in these columns, has written a song about this event called Carols by Candlelight.

Glenn Cardier

His references are to somewhere up in New South Wales where he lives. Not the original but in the spirit of the season, we'll forgive him that.

♫ Glenn-Cardier - Carols By Candlelight

On Christmas Eve in 1974, Darwin was pretty much totally flattened when it was struck by Cyclone Tracy. This was not named for my ex-wife (she has an e in her name) but it produced some interesting headlines for me. Not the rest of the country though.

Cyclone Tracy

This event also gave rise to one of the most appalling pop songs ever and I'm going to inflict it upon you. The song is Santa Never Made It Into Darwin and the singers are Bill and Boyd – that's Bill Cate and Boyd Robertson who were originally from New Zealand.

Bill and Boyd

♫ Bill and Boyd - Santa Never Made It Into Darwin

From the ridiculous to the sublime, we have the great Bessie Smith with At the Christmas Ball.

Bessie Smith

Bessie's recordings usually featured some of the best musicians of her day. This track features Fletcher Henderson on piano and Joe Smith on cornet – an alumnus of the Coleman Hawkins group - who became one of her favorite accompanists.

♫ Bessie Smith - At the Christmas Ball

Elvis has given us any number of Christmas songs, albums full of them.


I try to avoid listening to Christmas songs; preparing for this column is usually about all I can take. However, it's often unavoidable and I'll say that this is easily the best Christmas song Elvis ever did. I wish he'd done more in this vein.

It's Merry Christmas Baby, a song many people have recorded over the years, most notably Charles Brown and Chuck Berry.

♫ Elvis Presley - Merry Christmas Baby

That brings us to Butterbeans and Susie.

Butterbeans and Susie

Butterbeans and Susie were a comedy duo who often sang straight blues. They were Jodie Edwards and Susie Hawthorne who became Susie Edwards when she married Jodie.

They met in 1916 but didn't become a performing duo until the mid 1920s. They were thrown on stage when another husband and wife comedy duo couldn't make it one day. Their act was frowned on by the moralists of their day, so that's a good enough reason for including them.

They used their fame and influence to help younger black comedians and after they retired, they often put up indigent performers in their home. Here they are with Papa Ain't No Santa Claus.

♫ Butterbeans And Susie - Papa Ain't No Santa Claus

Any Christmas column worth its weight in snowflakes has to include something from Phil Spector's "A Christmas Gift For You" and I'm going to do just that in spite of the dearth of snowflakes around here at this time of the year (or any time). It's the middle of summer, after all.

I've chosen Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

Darlene Love

As usual, Spector has gone for his typical wall of sound production with this song, but that's what we expect from him.

♫ Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

I originally had three Christmas-in-prison songs, but only one of them made the final cut. I used one last year (with a different version from the one I was contemplating this time); the other maybe next year. The one that survived is Tom Waits with Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.

Tom Waits

♫ Tom Waits - Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Someone you probably weren't expecting on a Christmas column is Miles Davis.

Miles Davis

However, he did record at least one Christmas song called Blue Xmas. Something else that's unusual for Miles is that there's a vocalist on the track. I know of only one or two other tunes where he has employed a singer.

This one is Bob Dorough, a singer, a cool jazz pianist and composer. In the early sixties he was playing the clubs in Greenwich Village and became friends with some aspiring singers – Van Ronk, Garfunkel, Simon, Sky, Dylan, Ochs and others. Some of these did okay for themselves.

He has had a successful career creating educational songs for kids on maths, history and so on. He's 87 years old and still singing and playing.

Bob Dorough

♫ Davis - Blue Xmas

I will end with a touch of couth. I did that last year and it seemed to go over well, so I might make this a tradition.

This is the first movement of the Gregorian Chant Tempus Passionis. It's called Christus factus est and is sung by the women's choir In Dulci Jubilo from Cremona.

In Dulci Jubilo1

♫ Christus factus est

Christmas in Oz

GRAY MATTERS: Small Miracles

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

In this, the season of miracles, let me confess I have never believed in the big ones: the virgin birth, death and resurrection of the carpenter from Galilee or the lamp with oil for one day that somehow burned for eight days. I might as well have believed in Santa Claus.

But this did not mean I had no faith in the mysterious or the unexplainable. That would have meant having no room in one’s intellect for, say, beauty, love or music so lovely, like a Chopin etude, that it makes one cry. Here’s Artur Rubenstein playing one Chopin’s miracles.

In short, if you’ll indulge me for leaving, for a moment, my usual senior subjects, I truly believe in the smaller, more life-touching miracles. I am walking proof of such miracles.

A few years ago, when I was recovering from a stroke that partially paralyzed my right side, I worried that it might have affected my ability to hear and be moved by good music. Someone brought me a Sony Walkman (remember those?) and I cried with joy in my wheelchair when I discovered I could hear and even sing melodies.

My sound of music was not impaired. And I wheeled myself crazily down the hospital halls, singing (badly) a favorite opera aria.

Later, as I worked with a physical therapist, I watched in wonder as she coaxed from my stiff right hand some movement in my little finger. It was a small miracle, happening somewhere inside my brain, that marked my journey of recovery. And I did recover.

One dictionary says a miracle is an amazing, wonder-filled occurrence that cannot be explained by the laws of nature. Maybe, but I do not believe that the same unmoved mover that paralyzed my hand also moved my little finger. My faith in that patient and caring therapist brought us that miracle.

The esophageal cancer, discovered by accident because of the stroke, was the next big crisis - from years of smoking, competitive journalism, maddening editors and chewing Tums.

And the miracle worker was a young Chinese surgeon who specialized in dealing with older patients because, in his culture, old age is to be venerated as a kind of miracle. He once operated on and cured a 90-year-old woman of lung cancer because, he told me, reaching that age with lung cancer was, by itself, miraculous.

Most people don’t survive cancer of the esophagus because it’s discovered too late. The anti-acid remedies sold to millions of unsuspecting indigestion and acid reflux sufferers, relieve the discomfort but mask the dangers of cancer.

I was a victim and survivor of such dangers. I know of too many who have not been as lucky as I was - like the wonderful essayist and professional atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who says he’s dying.

So are we all. Both of us owe our cancers and/or the cures not to divine intervention, but to the miracles of illness and health. They are life affirming.

Life, illness, happiness, good fortune and bad, even good and bad presidents (I have covered) are all part of what the 11th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam had in mind when he wrote, “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” And,

That inverted bowl they call the sky,
Where under crawling, cooped we live and die.
Lift not your hands to it for help,
For it impotently moves as you or I.”

Too much of modern popular music and words that we don’t understand; the noise and screaming get in the way. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee were my kind of singers.

But not long ago, I listened carefully, above the hype, to a modern, miraculous piece by the late John Lennon, which voiced as well as Omar what life is and ought to be about. Pay attention to the miracle of these simple words:

The esophageal cancer was cured and I celebrated those five cancer-free years. But alas, earlier this year – again by accident – a new cancer was discovered in the lining of my stomach.

It has a fancy name – linitus plastica – and it’s unique in that there is no mass, only a few cells that don’t show up on a CT scan. And it is very slow-growing, if it grows at all, and it is without pain or symptoms.

So I live with it, as I’ve mentioned, under the care of the Hospice of the Chesapeake. And when an interviewer for a local paper asked how I live with such uncertainty, I told him, that there is no life without uncertainty.

But as Camus told us, we live and struggle and work and play and love, even in the face the inevitability of our own end. I am still lucky. I have my work, which seems to touch and help some people.

Each morning and afternoon, when the weather is moderate, I sit on my deck on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where I sailed for many years and still have a (power) boat. And smoke one of my indulgences, a fine and expensive cigar.

The bay is ever changing and the prevailing winds from the south can be fierce, but she’s even more beautiful in a dark and clattering summer storm which I can watch as it passes over my house and heads east.

My daughters visit me often, although one is in California, and when the grandchildren are over to help me pick crabs, they understand about living with uncertainty without letting on. So we treasure those times, and we shrug off the future. And they believe me when tell them how lucky we are.

Now that the cold has closed in, my wife drives me to the nearby cigar lounge where Mike, the proprietor, picks me out a couple of good ones from his humidor. I can watch a game on the giant HDTV or simply chat with other patrons, who defer to me because of my age and experiences as a reporter.

Most of them have been in the military or they’re spooks, more conservative than I am.

One guy came in to smoke and clean his target weapons, a pistol and an elaborate 30.08 rifle with a scope. He is building a special hideaway in the woods outside Washington for the day “they” come to take away his freedoms. He was described by Mike as a RWNJ, a “right-wing nut job.”

Another smoker, between covert assignments for the Drug Enforcement Agency, is trying to develop a retirement community in Nicaragua.

The VA psychiatrist, watching a guest cigar roller at work, tells us about treating too many returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan for the shocks inevitable in war.

Mike’s wife, Connie, a nurse at Walter Reed recalls the hollow sadness in the eyes of loved ones when they come to visit their legless or armless kinfolk. Most of these testosterone-heavy cigar enthusiasts, isolationists in the best sense, don’t see why the hell we’re still in Afghanistan.

The point of all this, in a season made for reflection, is to tell the story of how it feels to become and stay old for one very lucky older American for most of us, despite and because of illness, embrace life more fully than ever.

I still order fresh cigars, as if trying to guarantee me the time to smoke them. If things go well, my wife and I will go on a cruise to the Mediterranean next month so Evelyn can see the Nile and the pyramids that I saw as a reporter. Too bad we can't visit Omar's country.

Before I leave, I came across another of these small miracles of beauty, combining great art with fine music, to rediscover words I have not understood – until now.

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Elders' Technology

Many young people believe elders are technology challenged and indeed, a larger percentage of old people do not use computers and the internet than do young folks.

One reason is that many elders retired before computers were ubiquitous in the workplace and so were forced to learn on their own. Some succeeded, maybe with help from adult children or young grandchildren. Others never tried. But our numbers are increasing.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released its annual Generations report this week. It shows that although 58 percent of people age 65 to 73 use the internet, only 30 percent of those 74 and older do so. Actually, I think those are pretty good percentages given the challenges novices face.

The survey reports that the number one reason for not using the internet (among all age groups) is “just not interested” - 31 percent. The fourth ranked reason is “too difficult” (9 percent). Although the study doesn't break down that result by age, I suspect they both are concentrated in elder age groups.

Yesterday, Stone Bridges became the latest blogger to join TGB's Where Elders Blog feature admitting to being a bit of a technophobe while noting the 1980's telephone next to the computer. It's a fun anomaly.

By definition, anyone who reads this blog uses a computer and the internet. But I wondered, as I read the note from Stone yesterday and the Pew study, how “techie” we are. To check on myself, I took an inventory of my modern technology usage:

Laptop computer
Netbook computer
Smart phone with Blutooth earpiece
Digital camera
Kindle Wi-Fi

Those are the major pieces of hardware. I don't consider a modem, router, external hard drive for backups and printer particularly techie as once they are set up, they just toot along without too much need to understand them.

If you don't count a recent difficulty connecting the Kindle to my wi-fi, I understand most of the computing processes that can occasionally cause problems and I don't have much trouble fixing them when necessary.

It's pretty amazing what we've learned, I think, when you recall that the most complex technology we used as kids were dial telephones and radio knobs.

What technology do you use and how comfortable or proficient are you with it?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: From Coney Island to Madison Square Garden, Ruby Kessler

Name Stories

Being thoroughly fed up this week with Congress and the president who are playing most bountiful Santa Claus to the already filthy rich while stuffing Social Security's stocking with lumps of coal, I looked for a distraction – something light and fun we could do together here today.

At The Elder Storytelling Place in November, contributor Madonna Dries Christensen entertained readers with the difficulties and, sometimes, fun she's had through the years being stuck with the same name of one of those single-name celebrities.

Pretty much everyone I've known has stories about their name, and women of our age, if they have married twice or thrice or more, have a whole string of surnames that follow them around, particularly if there are children from more than one of those marriages.

Names are powerful icons. Parents usually expend a great deal of time and effort deciding on a name for a new baby as attested by Amazon which lists more than 2,000 baby naming books.

Most of us object strenuously when our names are mis-spelled and numerous studies show that people generally have a preference for letters contained in their names. I find that difficult to believe, but I defer to the researchers on it.

Usually, Americans have three names at birth and, not infrequently, a nickname is added for everyday use, usually a shortened version of the given name. Being a nation of immigrants, our surnames can be wildly different from our direct ancestors due to misunderstandings at immigration or later simplification.

For some reason, I know a lot about naming, its history and differences in other cultures. I could go on for several blog posts but let's not. Let's get to the point. My idea for relief from the ills of the world today is to tell the stories of our names. I'll go first – although mine is not nearly as interesting as Madonna's.

I was born Veronica Michael Haist although not for three weeks and I have an initial, sort of pre-birth certificate issued by the hospital with the name “Babe Haist.” (Good thing I don't want to be president with all those birthers looking for loopholes.)

The story is that my mother, convinced she was carrying a boy, had decided on Gregory Michael Haist. Shocked at having delivered a girl, it took her a long time to come up with Veronica and no, not for Veronica Lake, a movie star of the era.

Finding the first name took so much out of her, she said, that she kept Michael out of exhaustion.

Apparently, my formal name didn't last long. My dad called me Ronni Mike and at school I was Ronni, although when my mother was angry with me, she always called me Veronica. Since then, I've never used it except on legal documents; when I hear it, even all these years later, I automatically think I'm in trouble.

In my twenties, I married Bennett Gordon Schwarzmann and became Ronni Schwarzmann to most people. Ben was, then, a disc jockey, but in those days it was not acceptable to use such a Jewish-sounding name on the radio so he became Alex Bennett professionally, and people we knew assumed my name was Ronni Bennett.

Back then, hardly any wives had names different from their husband's, and it was easier to go along than to explain again and again. When I began producing his radio talk show, I too used the surname Bennett professionally.

It didn't seem right, when we divorced, not to use to my legal name but it was difficult, in looking for work, to identify myself to people I knew in the radio business as Ronni Schwarzmann and get them to talk with me on the phone. So convenience reigned.

Through some error, the first checks from my newfound employment at The Dick Cavett Show were made out to Ronni Bennett and as I needed the money pronto, I opened a bank account in that name.

That led to a rental contract, driving license, credit cards and other documents with the surname Bennett (although I did revert to Veronica for legal purposes) and over time, along with several affidavits for the IRS and passport needs, Veronica Bennett became my legal name.

So my surname for the past 45 years has been my former husband's given name and the name by which I'm universally known bears no relationship to my birth name. Some would say (and have done so) that all this indicates a confusion about who I am. I disagree.

Men have never had these name complications and now that women, upon marriage, often keep their birth names, neither do they.

Now it's your turn. What's your name story? (I guess any of you who use pseudonyms will just have to enjoy other people's stories.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: An Ugly Dog Story

The Social Security Sellout and an Interview

category_bug_politics.gif Back in 2005, President George W. Bush tried to sell Americans on the privatization of Social Security with a lie – that it was broke. Fortunately, most of the country knew better and the ploy failed. Nevertheless, it left many, particularly young people, believing the program will not be there when they retire.

Now, thanks to Republican hypocrisy, Democratic ignorance, presidential capitulation or all of the above in their various configurations, those young people may be proved correct after all. The so-called middle-class tax cut that is expected to pass in the Senate today includes a two percent payroll tax holiday for employees that is the first inroad to the long-term Republican desire to destroy Social Security.

“They make the claim that Social Security is in trouble despite the fact that the payroll tax has produced surpluses in 26 of the past 27 years — when it didn’t add a penny to the deficit,” writes Joshua Holland at Alternet.

“But if that 16-percent cut in payroll taxes remains the law of the land over the longer term, the program’s fiscal picture changes dramatically, and the argument that Social Security is in trouble becomes fact rather than fiction. From there, the claim that we have to cut benefits becomes much easier to make, and far more difficult to refute.”

Exactly. Further, two years from now, with the 2012 election cycle nearing its conclusion, the president and everyone in Congress (except Bernie Sanders) will be too frightened to let the payroll tax holiday expire as legislated when the Republicans are promoting the expiration as a tax increase. Holland again:

“[T]he best-case estimates for the jobs picture in 2012 is an unemployment rate of about 8.5 percent, and raising taxes on working people at that time is going to be a potentially insurmountable political challenge.

“For the next two years, the cut in payroll taxes would be made up out of general revenues - from deficit spending - and the Social Security system will be protected.

“But with a bipartisan fetish surrounding the federal deficit, it’s not hard to see that payroll tax reduction being baked into the long-term projections of the system’s finances in short order.”

There are many other things to dislike about the tax cut bill the Senate votes on today, but it will pass by a large majority. It then goes to the House which will undoubtedly cave on their earlier objections and the bill - adding almost $1 trillion to the deficit - will be the law of the land before Christmas.

Happy Holidays, everyone. For elders – you and me and young people who will, in due course, become elders – it is disaster.

Here is Senator Bernie Sanders on The Ed Show Monday:

As a result of having this blog, I am occasionally asked for an interview. The downside is how often there are questions I struggle to answer - things I haven't considered before, haven't thought through or just plain don't know.

The upside, is that sometimes it becomes much more than a Q&A.

Juliavalentine A couple of months ago, a lovely, smart, engaging young woman named Julia Valentine asked for an interview. She runs a company and website for and about elders, Joy Compass, which grew out of the profound differences in circumstances she witnessed as a child between her two sets of grandparents – one pair who suffered greatly as they got older and the other who accepted the changes that came with age and lived a happier elderhood.

If my memory hasn't failed me, Julia said the interview would take about 30 minutes. We were still talking 90 minutes later mainly because Julia is a gifted interviewer and turned what is usually a formal question and answer session into a conversation.

The results of our time together has now been published at Joy Compass. You can read the transcript or listen to the iTunes podcast there.

Thank you, Julia, for a wonderful time together.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dolores Banerd: Telling Your Travel Stories

Crabby Old Lady's New Facebook Rant

In the greater scheme of things - such as what Monday's test vote in the Senate portends for the future of Social Security - Facebook doesn't matter and Crabby Old Lady feels slightly foolish bringing it up right now.

Nevertheless, it is an irritation, a burr in one's saddle, a pebble in the shoe of life that refuses to be ignored, leeching time and attention from more useful pursuits.

Those who have a distaste for Facebook are often made to feel like hopeless Luddites by the "cool kids" who are willing to kick non-users to the curb in their mad rush to share with the world every jot and tittle of their lives.

“Leave me a message on my wall,” say “friends” when Crabby Old Lady complains they haven't responded to an emailed question. “I hardly ever check my inbox nowadays,” they tell her with an barely concealed whiff of derision at her failure to join the mob.

For various purposes, Crabby has six or seven, long-standing email addresses, including a couple of aliases to ensure privacy when she wants it, and she spent a good deal of effort a long time ago setting them up so that messages from all arrive in the same inbox on her computer.

Unless Crabby doesn't want to be disturbed for a period of time, that program, Mozilla Thunderbird, remains open all day where she can check messages from those sources with one click. It is an efficient system that allows her to keep all addresses, archived messages and even rss subscriptions in one place organized by folders, color coding and useful icons.

Curious about it when Facebook was first becoming a phenomenon, Crabby Old Lady signed up for an account. Unable to suss out any reason to use the site, she forgot about it or, rather, tried.

Soon, friend requests began arriving, along with something called “pokes," “gifts” of beer and flowers about which she had (and still has) no idea what to do, and invitations to join groups.

Even while despising Facebook's distortion of the meaning of the word, it seems curmudgeonly not to accept someone's request to be her “friend,” so Crabby presses “accept” when they arrive. She ignores everything else.

That is, she attempts to ignore them because one dirty, little secret about Facebook whose baby billionaire CEO wants it to be everything to everybody including email, is that it announces every event related to Crabby by – wait for it – email.

And, apparently, anyone can add other Facebook members to groups without consent. Saturday morning, Crabby's email inbox was spammed with 10 or 12 messages from someone she never heard of welcoming her to a new Facebook group and following up with nattering ruminations on how the group should or should not operate.

Let Crabby Old Lady give you – whoever you are - a clue about that: SHE DOESN'T CARE. YOU ARE BEING RUDE. GET OUT OF CRABBY'S INBOX.

Later, someone else caught in this brain dump of unwanted information told Crabby that it may all be spam and later still, the “perpetrator” emailed (neither of thes messages, you will note, via all-things-to-all-people Facebook) to apologize; she had been led to believe that adding names sent those people an invitation only. Which proves several of Crabby's abundant number of objections to Facebook:

It is a source of unending crap in her inbox.

It will send as much crap as possible to as many people as possible whether one intends to or not.

It is designed to make it as hard as possible to understand.

Even smart, interesting people Crabby knows turn stupid on Facebook blasting messages of minutiae all day.

Then there are Facebook's well-publicized invasions of privacy. Remember the one in which Facebook, without permission, posted the retail purchases members had made? Crabby doesn't follow Facebook stuff closely, but she seems to recall that it recently inaugurated a location finder that tells friends where members are at any given moment.

Call Crabby old-fashioned all you want, but she doesn't care when you're at the supermarket or if it is raining and she's pretty sure all but the hardest-core Facebook users don't care about her wanderings and weather either. What kind of fevered brain even thinks up this stuff.

What makes these invasions most insidious is that they are implemented unannounced requiring disinterested or insulted members to opt out which Facebook, again, makes as difficult as possible. An example:

Also on Saturday morning, Chris Pirillo's Lockergnome newsletter related a new attack on Facebook members' privacy. Suddenly, Mark Zuckerberg's brainchild is posting members' comments, even those made on closed, passworded pages, on the commenters' public walls. Let Chris explain:

[Kat's] Mom has very few friends on Facebook for a reason and her page is as locked down and secure as it can be. She doesn’t wish to share her information with anyone.

Kat, however, does not have her Wall and information locked down. She is very social, due to the type of work we do. Imagine how upset her very private mom is going to be if the things Kat writes on her Wall start showing up for all of you to read?

No kidding.

Some time ago, the blog platform Crabby uses, Typepad, made it easy to connect her blogs with Facebook so that when a story is published here, it is posted at the same time to Facebook (and to Twitter, but don't make Crabby go there). She did so for whomever might want to read Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place that way but only because it was a simple setup and requires zero maintenance. If it ever breaks, it will stay that way.

A few readers have suggested that Crabby create something called a fan page on Facebook for Time Goes By. What? A “wall” isn't enough? And how much time would it cost Crabby to keep it up? Don't answer. She has no interest and finds the thought of having "fans" (an abbreviation, for anyone who has forgotten, of fanatics - something more suitable to teenage singers wearing too few clothes) embarrassing.

Against many odds, Crabby tries to keep her life simple and computers themselves are complex enough. Programs go wonky. There are constant update notices for everything on her hard drive. Even with the strongest virus protection, some sneak through. And it takes daily tinkering to keep email spam at bay. Last week, her two-month-old mouse died.

One computer, one email program and two blogs are enough for Crabby Old Lady's communication needs; there are a zillion more compelling things in life than Facebook.

If you like Facebook, fine. Crabby makes the blogs available for you there. But don't ask her to do anything else with it.

All of the above notwithstanding, at the request of several Time Goes By readers over many months Crabby, this week, implemented the Facebook "Like" button at the bottom of each blog entry. It is a test. If readers don't use it, it will be removed.

(PS: If you cannot resist tutoring Crabby Old Lady the intricacies of Facebook functions in the comments below – please reconsider.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rebecca Gordon: Torture and a Trip to the Emergency Room

Bernie's Excellent Adventure

category_bug_politics.gif Independent Senator Bernie Sanders had already been talking nonstop for five hours Friday when Kay Dennison of Kay's Thinking Cap alerted me to turn on CSPAN2.

Until the senator yielded the floor another three-and-a-half hours later, I was transfixed as he denounced what he called – and I agree – the grossly unfair tax package designed by President Obama and the Republican leadership of Congress.

Senator Sanders had begun his speech at about 10:30AM eastern time:

"I am here today to take a strong stand against this bill, and I intend to tell my colleagues and the nation exactly why I am in opposition to this bill," he said. "You can call what I am doing today whatever you want - you can call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech.

"I'm not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle. I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides."

And so he did.

He dissected the details one-by-one explaining clearly why the two-year extension of the tax cut for the rich, the payroll tax holiday, the estate tax giveaway, the continuation of the low tax rate on dividends and capital gains are bad for the American people.

He read heartbreaking letters from Vermont constituents who are having to choose between food and heating their homes. He read from Arianna Huffington's book, Third World America. And he mocked the wealthy elite's self-righteous greed:

“How can I get by on one house? I need five houses, ten houses! I need three jet planes to take me all over the world!" said Sanders. "Sorry, American people. We've got the money, we've got the power, we've got the lobbyists here and on Wall Street. Tough luck. That's the world, get used to it. Rich get richer. Middle class shrinks.”

After more than eight-and-a-half hours on his feet, Sanders concluded:

"If the American people stand up and say, we can do better than this, that we don’t need to drive up the national debt by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, that if the American people are prepared to stand – and we’re prepared to follow them – I think we can defeat this proposal.

"I think we can come up with a better proposal which better reflects the needs of the middle class and working families of our country and, to me, most importantly, the children of our country. And with that, Madam President, I would yield the floor."

Every minute was a glorious speech from the heart - impassioned, indignant and honest. In a story titled, "God Bless Bernie Sanders, Jacob Heilbrun at Huffington Post put it beautifully:

"Sometimes it's worth taking a stand. Sanders didn't just do that. In pointing to the gross disparities in wealth in the United States, he did something else. He told the truth."

It has been years since we have heard anything this real from a Congress filled mostly with legislators who speak from both sides of their mouths.

Mainstream media – print and television – acknowledged the speech mostly in the breach, reporting only on the spectacle.

The New York Times trivialized it first with a dismissive headline, "A Vermont Senator Becomes a Twitter Sensation," and then by giving not one word of their story to Sanders' arguments.

The Washington Post did slightly better providing at least minor context to Sanders' reasons for his marathon but without quoting any of the substance.

As the press took pains to explain, it wasn't a real filibuster because no vote was being stalled. Senate Leader Harry Reid has set a procedural vote on the bill for 3PM today. I fear that Senator Sanders' feat of endurance will have been for naught, but I took his speech as a call to action anyway and wrote my Washington representatives again.

You could do that too. And, how about giving a shoutout to Senator Sanders to thank him for his exceptional, fierce belief in what is right and going the limit for it. Here is his Senate office contact form.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman: Well With My Soul

ELDER MUSIC: Michael Martin Murphey

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


Michael Martin Murphey

Michael Martin Murphey is a performer of western music and likes to wear a cowboy hat. He is from Texas, thus the hat, and as a kid he listened to the music of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, and Woody Guthrie. He wasn’t alone there.

He was also an avid reader - a man after my own heart - particularly Mark Twain and William Faulkner.

He moved to California when school was out and his friend, Mike Nesmith, asked him to write a song for the next Monkees’ album. No problem. This sold millions and he thought, this isn’t a bad lark and started writing songs for himself.

Michael Martin Murphey

The first time I encountered Michael was when he had a bit of a hit with the song Wildfire. I imagine those who know his work probably got there the same way. This had the great advantage of having a couple of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band adding harmony and a touch of Scriabin on the piano intro.

♫ Wildfire

Michael Martin Murphey

This wasn’t his first significant song though. That was Geronimo's Cadillac, a song about Indian rights that later became an unofficial anthem for the American Indian Movement in the early seventies.

Geronimo's Cadillac

The photo shows Geronimo at the wheel of a Locomobile, not a Cadillac. It was taken in 1904 on a ranch in Oklahoma when Geronimo was imprisoned at Fort Sill. The day at the ranch was a specially arranged one for the press.

♫ Geronimo's Cadillac

Michael Martin Murphey

There was a period where he was associated with the west coast country rock scene that I’ll skip over. He then released a series of albums called “Cowboy Songs, Volume I, II, III, IV”. Actually the first one was just called “Cowboy Songs” and is the most interesting of the lot.I guess he didn’t think this was going to be an ongoing project when he named it. I also think that Volume III should have been the first one, but what do I know?

Going with my logic I’ll start with Volume III.

Some years ago there were a number of song duets where singers sang with dead people. The most famous of these was Natalie Cole singing with her father. I found these rather creepy.

Michael did the same thing and I still find the concept creepy, but I’m going to include it anyway. See what you think. Here he sings with Marty Robbins on one of Marty’s all time great hits, Big Iron.

♫ Big Iron

Returning to the first volume, it brings me to a song I first heard on the radio sung by Mitch Miller and the gang.

Yellow Rose

Michael eschewed Mitch’s version and has gone back to the original song.

The Yellow Rose of Texas was almost certainly written by a black American soldier about his mulatto gal back in Tennessee. This man, whose name is unknown, was with Sam Houston when he, along with an army of “Texians,” Tennesseeans and others, attempted a large land grab of Texas from the Mexicans.

Of course the Mexicans had already accomplished a land grab of their own (as had the French and Spanish). They were pitted against General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.

Surprisingly, we know the name of the Yellow Rose. It was Emily West, later adding Morgan after her slave owner.

Although from Tennessee or possibly Bermuda, she was brought to Texas by that owner, James Morgan. Unfortunately, the town where he set her up was overrun by the Mexicans (James had skedaddled) and the comely Emily caught Santa Anna’s eye.

Now, Santa Anna thought he was God’s gift to women. Only two weeks earlier, he had married another captive in spite of having a wife back in Mexico.

A couple of days later, Houston was up a tree spying on the Mexican camp. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that this was military rather than voyeurism for Santa Anna didst sport with Em and a champagne breakfast was the order of the day that morning.

Houston ordered an attack and the Mexican army was caught with their pants down, literally in the case of Santa Anna, as reports from the time attest.

The Texians won and Emily was granted her freedom for her crucial service and given a ticket to New York.

This is the non-Mitch Miller version of the song.

♫ The Yellow Rose of Texas

Michael Martin Murphey

Although there are mostly traditional songs on this record, Michael performed a couple of recent tunes that fit well with the others. This is one written by the finest writer of cowboy songs alive today, Ian Tyson.

The song explores the mind-set of a modern cowboy from the point of view of someone giving advice. Never a comfortable position. It’s called Cowboy Pride.

♫ Cowboy Pride

Michael Martin Murphey

The Streets of Laredo, or Cowboy's Lament, is the folk process in action. It has antecedents in an earlier British song, The Unfortunate Rake and a related song, The Unfortunate Lad.

There’s another sea-song called Spanish Ladies that’s in the mix as well and an Irish song called My Jewel, My Joy. It has also evolved, most notably into the song, Bang the Drum Slowly.

♫ The Streets of Laredo

Michael Martin Murphey

To end, I really couldn’t go past Happy Trails, written by Dale Evans of course. On this one Michael has the help of Suzy Boggus.

♫ Happy Trails

GRAY MATTERS: Potential Medicare Dangers

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

Before Gray Matters leaves the dismal subject of President Obama’s misbegotten Frankenstein monster, the deficit reduction commission, there is one tiny sliver of decent news from its lone genuine liberal, Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky.

In one of her many television interviews, she noted that the information that the members of the commission had at last come to terms with the fact that Social Security’s pension insurance system, which is self-supporting with payroll taxes and minimal administrative costs does not, repeat, not add to the deficit.

Therefore, she said their “proposed reforms,” like slowly raising the retirement age, are meant only to stabilize its finances for the next 75 years. We now know that nothing so drastic as cutting benefits, which is what raising the retirement age will do, is simply not necessary, as Obama has said.

But alas, our unpredictable president, of questionable principles, as Time Goes By as demonstrated on the past few posts, has done his damnedest – with the suspension of the payroll taxes – to make life more difficult than it needs to be for Social Security.

But that’s not what I wanted to draw from Schakowsky’s observation. Her fear is not for the long term future of Social Security, but the more immediate dangers for the 47 million of us who depend on Medicare.

It is true that the Affordable Care Act strengthened Medicare’s Part A trust fund, and that cutting the subsidy for Medicare Advantage has helped the finances and the fortunes of Part B. But except for Schakowsky, virtually every member of the commission is about to pounce on Medicare because health care – but not necessarily Medicare - is the largest and fastest growing target for cutting the deficit.

Never mind that our for-profit health care system is filled with greed and corruption and is a drag on Medicare.

But its advocates are being heard. As I mentioned last time, a coalition of liberal economists in a Citizens Commission, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, economist Dean Baker and, this time, joined by separate statements from AARP, have protested strongly that the problem is not Medicare.

As the Citizens Commission wrote,

“Alarming long-term projections of growing debt almost completely come from uncontrolled growth in health care costs. We do not have an entitlement crisis; we have an unaffordable health care system.”

Nevertheless, the key members of the deficit commission, with nods of approval so far from its creator, the president, would pick on what Obama’s co-chairman, Alan Simpson, called the “lesser people” for the unkindest cuts.

Even the mildest medicine, proposed by Simpson and his buddy, former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles, would put a cap on and stunt the growth of Medicare even though other health costs are mostly responsible for that growth. In addition, as I wrote, the eligibility age for Medicare – for your children – would rise to 68.

Your expensive Medigap policy will be worth less: Bowles-Simpson would exclude the first $500 of coverage and limit coverage to 50 percent of the next $5,000.

Your annual out of pocket costs could rise to $7,500.

And, as I mentioned, the experiment for getting the feds into long term care, called CLASS, proposed by a dying Ted Kennedy, would be abandoned. From Bowles-Simpson, the gutting of original Medicare goes from bad to worse.

Former Clinton Budget Director Alice Rivlin and former Senator Pete Domenici would raise the already onerous 20 percent co-insurance for Part B to 35 percent.

And starting in 2018, their plan would substitute the present system - the government pays the bills - with a “premium support” system in which the beneficiary would get a certain amount of money to shop for his/her coverage.

Can you imagine going from the current system, which is confusing enough, to one in which beneficiaries, including the oldest men and women living in nursing homes, must shop each year for private insurance? Who would regulate the insurers?

Even worse, Rivlin and her new ally, right-wing ideologue Representative Paul Ryan [R-Wis], would completely privatize what most Americans consider the best health insurance they can get.

What makes this a dangerous possibility is the fact that Ryan will become chairman of the House Budget Committee. Under his market-oriented proposal, we would take the system that accounts for most of the present problem and make it worse.

Starting in 2021, people who turn 65 will receive vouchers to buy private insurance through a new Medicare Exchange. Vouchers would be worth $11,000 (surely that will be enough to treat a cancer), although adjustment may be made depending on the illness.

Of course, it will be up to the sick or dying beneficiary to argue his/her case with the insurer.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there’s intensifying pressure to control Medicare costs and that pressure is going to intensify more over time when you look at the deficit and you see that really Social Security is a minor contributor. It’s mainly health care,” said Jonathan Oberlander, professor of social medicine at the University of North Carolina. “Medicare has long been about budget politics.”

While Medicare makes a tempting target for cuts, John Rother, AARP’s executive vice president said,

“The burden of Medicare’s out of pocket costs is already very high, to the point where many people are literally having to choose between the necessities of life and health care. I don’t think it’s possible or advisable to further load people of modest incomes with very high health care costs.”

Rother has signaled that AARP, which successfully fought off the 1995 Bush administration effort to privatize Social Security, will be even more militant on Medicare’s behalf.

As important, the American Medical Association, has become a strong Medicare defender, especially since the Congress last week stopped for a year the pending 23 percent cut in the program’s payment for doctors. The year is expected to give lawmakers time to rewrite the formula for setting the fees.

Tricia Neuman, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Medicare Policy Project, decries the premium support and voucher proposals and says the Affordable Care Act can help keep Medicare costs down.

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services began writing regulations for an important part of the new law, called the Medical Loss Ratio, requiring insurers to spend 80 to 85 percent of health care premiums on actual health care rather than executive salaries and other administrative costs.

Getting back to Ms. Schakowksy, she had only one Medicare reform to propose that would require Medicare to scrap Part D and establish a Medicare drug plan and that Medicare be required to negotiate prices with drug companies.

Since the deficit commission seems to agree that the present system is flawed and too costly, I’d go one step further and propose what Obama used to favor, Medicare for All. But that was before he lost whatever it is that he once believed.